Wheeler’s Goat

Back in the 1870s, before barbed wire fences had become the norm and the Courthouse was much smaller, there was this goat who had all sorts of misadventures in-and-around the Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square. I am not aware of his breed, name (although it could have been “That Damn Animal”), nor am I positive to whom he belonged, thanks to the fact that are several versions of the story.

At the time, the Square was a pretty dirty place. Imagine Fry Street at the end of a  weekend, but instead of pizza crusts, beer bottles, and cigarette butts there were goats, produce, and chewing tobacco (and lots of poop). According to Eugene L. Fry, who wrote a small pamphlet book about the early days, called Historical Episodes of Denton,

“The square was just: “… a dumping ground for everybody. The country people would come into town after a day’s work and dump their produce into the town square in front of the place of the merchant’s business house… The eternal botheration of stray hogs, longhorn, cattle, and all sorts of domestic and semi-domestic animals, roaming at will from one pile of rubbish or from store to store, proved quite unbearable and otherwise utterly useless.”

“A man named John Ross, owned an unusual Billy goat who … roamed the square like an army general who had just captured the city… He stole large quantities of groceries (ate) and then went in for calico (ate) and leather saddles (also ate). But despite the serious misdemeanors he was respected around town due to his tendency to charge and never miss.”

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Possible scene of the crime: the J. F. Bell Grocery store on the northwest corner of the Denton square. [photo DPL]

Another rehashing of the goat story appears in the Denton Record-Chronicle in several columns by “The Loafer” (W. H. Browder) that appeared in December of 1928. Among the storytellers were Jack Christal, Jack Fry, Bob Evers, Will Williams, Frank Piner, Mrs. Mattie Hawkins and Mrs. Mattie Farris. According to them the goat belonged to a man named Wheeler and it was followed around by three or four nannies (or maybe none). “They made the business part of town their habitat and subsisted, according to popular belief on rags, paper, and tin cans. Their most famous achievement (or credit) was when they broke in to the County Attorney’s office –

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Denton County Clerk’s Office, c1919 [photo DPL]

– and ate some indictments.

Those indictments were against one man and “the destruction of the true bills prevented the charges against him ever reaching trial.”

I have no idea who that man was, but it sounds like he was pretty lucky!

On another occasion, Bob Evers recalled that: “He heard J. W. Jagoe in his office raising a hullabaloo that we could hear upstairs. I went up to see what was the matter and found Jagoe in his office which looked as if a cyclone had just passed thru. It developed that Wheeler’s goats had climbed into Jagoe’s office from the awning and had made a meal off the lawyer’s papers, documents, abstracts and loose books.”

Mused Browder, “In many ways they [the goat(s)] were a nuisance, but they contributed much to the life of the town and their goatesque way, being privileged characters who were willing to fight for their privileges if any attempt was made to deny them.”

Of course, this couldn’t happen today because the Courthouse is so much bigger and the echoes of a goat clickety-clacking throughout the building just couldn’t be tolerated.  I read later  that the goat retired to the Denton County Poor Farm and spent his last days, no doubt,  in quiet turpitude.

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~Leslie Couture

Special Collections

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